Monarch girls look to right the ship
By KLINT SPILLER
For Thomas More Prep-Marian girls' basketball coach Rose McFarland, her team's 0-4 start doesn't mean much to her.
What matters more is how the Monarchs finish.
TMP will travel Friday to Ellinwood (3-2) for its league opener. The tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
"That record doesn't mean anything to me," McFarland said. "We could be 5-0 and not do anything. ... The league is a whole different deal. Every outing, we are just looking to improve."
The Monarchs have won nine consecutive league titles under former head coach Alan Billinger.
TMP senior forward Jenna Schuckman said they would like to continue that streak with their new head coach.
"It would be great to win 10 in a row," Schuckman said.
TMP's early-season schedule was brutal. Starting with the Hays City Shoot-Out, the Monarchs faced Kearney, a school in the biggest classification in Nebraska; then they faced Great Bend, a Class 5A school; and they followed it with Colby, a Class 4A school that defeated Hays High on Dec. 6. Then they faced Class 3A Phillipsburg (2-3) and fell in overtime.
"We are trying to keep our heads up," Schuckman said. "We are pushing for a win, and hopefully we get one soon. It would be great."
Ellinwood is a team TMP routinely has had success against. The Monarchs won all four games against the Eagles since TMP joined the Mid-Central Activities Association in 2009, with the closest game decided by 11 points.
However, this season, after starting 0-2, Ellinwood has reeled off three straight victories.
Junior Sophia Hayes leads Ellinwood in scoring with 12 points per game while sophomore Rachel Doll adds 10.4 per game.
"I got a chance to watch them a little bit, and I think they have some nice players who can do some nice things," McFarland said. "They seem to be executing offensively. They play pretty good defense."
TMP senior Heather Ruder leads the Monarchs with 14.3 points per game.
McFarland said she thinks TMP has improved after each game, but each one has provided new learning experiences.
Against Phillipsburg, McFarland said her team discovered it needed to work on rebounding. The Panthers outrebounded TMP 42 to 27.
"We've had some games where we haven't rebounded well, and any one rebound in a game like that can cost you," McFarland said.
The Monarchs also sent the Panthers to the foul line for 31 free throws.
"We have to cut back on our fouls," she said.
Under a new coach, Schuckman said she thinks the team is starting to play as more of a team the farther they get into the season.
"We are making progress," she said. "I think eventually we are going to start pulling out some wins."
Like the girls, the TMP boys also have gone undefeated against Ellinwood since joining the MCAA in 2009, and like the girls, the Monarchs' 1-3 start is disappointing but they hope to turn it around in their league opener.
Like McFarland, TMP boys' basketball head coach Joe Hertel also has noticed growth.
On Tuesday, TMP battled on the boards against an undefeated and physical Panther team, and the Monarchs won that battle 46 to 45.
TMP even managed to lead by 11 points late in the third quarter. However, Phillipsburg's relentless pressure in the fourth quarter allowed the Panthers to go on a 31-9 run in the last 10 minutes and win comfortably, 59-48.
"I just hope we can realize by what happened in this game, the areas we have to get better in order to have a shot at a win," Hertel said.
The Ellinwood boys (2-3) has registered wins against Russell and Otis-Bison but fell to St. John, Kinsley and Spearville.
Eagles 6-foot-1 senior Kyle Blakeslee has been his squad's primary scoring threat, averaging 15.2 points per game, while senior Cody Isern is second with 9.8.
TMP sophomore Cameron Fouts leads the Monarchs with 9.5 points per game.
"One of our team goals is to compete for a league title, and it's kind of hard to earn a league title if you lose your first one," Hertel said.
For both TMP teams, it's the Monarchs' first true road test of the season.
For many of the TMP boys' sophomore contributers, it will be their first experience playing varsity basketball on the road.
"It is a road game, and road games create a lot of adversity," Hertel said. "That's a-whole-nother area these sophomores have to figure out, which is to go on the road, play tough and play well in an unfriendly environment."